On the other hand, Karen brought her desire to be a mathematician with her to BEAM and her goal to pursue mathematics did not waiver throughout the program. However, she did learn more about how it feels to pursue challenging mathematics, and the kind of community you want to have in your corner as you tackle difficult math problems.
This is what Karen had to say about what she learned at BEAM:
People aren’t really how you would think they are. There will always be someone with their arms wide open to pour feelings out to.
The larger mathematical community isn’t always a supportive one, especially for students of color. BEAM is out to change that, and we aren’t alone. Mathematicians of the highest caliber are beginning to recognize that humanity along with all her children, their history, their hurts and highest hopes, have a place in the midst of math. In the words of Francis Su, former president of the Mathematical Association of America and math professor at Harvey Mudd:
We are not mathematical machines. We live, we breathe, we feel, we bleed. If your students are struggling, and you don’t acknowledge it, their education becomes disconnected and irrelevant.
Math doesn’t happen in a vacuum, devoid of feeling or emotion. As Karen wrote about her experience working on a math problem for days: It was stressful, but after solving it I was satisfied.
Pursuing math is stressful! It is satisfying and rewarding and beautiful, but also (and often) stressful. The stress and the struggle are necessary aspects of pursuing math, worthy aspects of expanding the mathematical frontier. But the struggle doesn’t have to be a lonely one.
Every mathematician needs a shoulder to cry on from time to time, and that is what Karen found at BEAM, a community she can count on.
Only time will tell whether Karen and Amara choose to pursue being a mathematician as a future career, but they have already encountered currents that can carry them to the very heart of mathematics: the exhilarating joy of struggle and the strength of a supportive and understanding math community.